RIP skinnies. What’s next for jeans?

With denim returning to our wardrobes, the jury is out as to which cut of jeans will win out. Make the ‘anything goes’ moment work for you by looking to vintage inspiration for these 10 styles

Farrah Fawcett in the 70s.
Farrah Fawcett in the 70s. Photograph: Spelling-Goldberg/Kobal/Rex/Shutterstock

In fashion, one thing’s for sure – the era of sweatpants is over, and denim is back. It’s also pretty clear that skinny jeans, the style that has refused to die for 20 years, are finally, waning from fashion’s pole position, thanks to gen Z relentlessly roasting milllenials over their trouser choice. And that is where the certainties end.

With the Levi’s CEO declaring this the beginning of a “new denim cycle”, fashion experts are uncharacteristically quiet on declaring what will be declared the jean of the future – or even of now. They’re hedging their bets. Everything from the straight leg to the bootcut and the lowrise has been mooted. There could be an upside to this indecision. It means you can have another look at your jeans collection – not the ones you wear on repeat, the other ones, the neglected styles – and reassess how to wear them.

Alternatively, shop vintage to refresh your denim choice while staying sustainable and looking like an early adopter of a trend. Here are 10 different denim designs, worn well by style icons over the years. Take inspiration to find your jean of 2021.

Jimi Hendrix on stage at Woodstock, 1969.
Jimi Hendrix on stage at Woodstock, 1969. Photograph: Warner Bros/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Ravers in Manchester in 1989.
Ravers in Manchester in 1989. Photograph: Peter J Walsh/Pymca/Rex/Shutterstock

Bell bottoms

OK, so not everyone wearing bell bottoms will be Jimi Hendrix, but to go more rock star and less the-disco-guy-in-the-emoji-keyboard, he’s definitely someone to aspire to. As well as fringing, he wore his jeans with cowboy shirts, frock coats, velvet blazers and balloon-sleeved blouse. Harry Styles, much?


How to wear flares without looking too retro? Looking back to 70s pinups such as Farrah Fawcett helps. Don’t team them with high heels and a nice top. Instead, a sweatshirt and trainers looks fresh, and if it’s combined with a skateboard, so much the better.


Destiny’s Child in 2001.
Destiny’s Child in 2001. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic Inc
Debbie Harry on stage in 1978.
Debbie Harry on stage in 1978. Photograph: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

Billie Eilish, the patron saint of gen Z, is all about the baggy. When it comes to jeans, you, like her, could definitely get some pointers from ravers. They wore jeans with legs as wide as oxford bags during 1988’s second summer of love. Often paired with graphic T-shirts, it’s a combo that works just as well today.

Low-rise jeans

There has been a lot of buzz – and a lot of angst – about a low-rise jeans comeback. It’s a real trend, too with young women ranging from Bella Hadid to Hailey Bieber reviving them as part of a wider trend for all things fashionable around the turn of the millennium. Should you still have some of these jeans – bravo! – and want to do the full look, there are few better references than Destiny’s Child in 2001. This is how the jeans and a nice top look can legitimately be revived.

Straight leg

Kanye West at the Met Ball in 2016.
Kanye West at the Met Ball in 2016. Photograph: Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Debbie Harry is a denim pinup. Her jeans in the mid-70s were zip-up, straight and reached the anklebone, where they likely met an open-toed sandal. Harry’s are Levi’s 505s, the kind with zero stretch in them. Double denim is an option – or Harry also wore them with sporty vests.


The Ramones in 1978.
The Ramones in 1978. Photograph: Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic

The Ramones are often credited an the OGs of skinny jeans – they apparently bought theirs at New York punk store Trash and Vaudeville. However, they can also be looked to for slimcut jeans inspo. Here, in 1978, they combined them with another trend that is also coming back in the 2020s, crop tops for men.


Between 2014 and 2016, Kanye West made exposed knees a thing in denim. The Cut even ran an article titled Are Kanye’s Knees Trying to Tell Us Something? Maybe they were signalling the future? Five years later, frayed jeans are back. This is obviously a style that anyone can embrace. All you need is an old pair of jeans, a pair of scissors, some tweezers and a YouTube tutorial.

Jane Birkin – with basket – in 1977.
Jane Birkin – with basket – in 1977. Photograph: United Archives GmbH/Alamy


Diana Ross in 1975.
Diana Ross in 1975. Photograph: Images Press/Getty Images

Who doesn’t want to look like Jane Birkin in the 70s? Patchwork jeans – often worn with a white T-shirt, with a wicker basket nearby – are part of her south of France look. This is another one you could attempt yourself, just as 70s Jane probably did. Unlike her, though, you now have YouTube to help.


Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in the 90s.
Carolyn Bessette Kennedy in the 90s. Photograph: Lawrence Schwartzwald/Sygma/Getty Images

It’s easy to forget that jeans were an out-out staple. Looking at this picture of Diana Ross in 1975 should remind you. In the disco era, high-waisted jeans were the thing – often so tight that women would have to lie down to zip them up. Dust off your out-out jeans for 21 June and wear with a cropped vest to be more like Diana. If there’s ever a time, it’s now.


Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy is Instagram catnip, loved for her American take on 90s minimalism. While high-fashion brands such as Calvin Klein, where she was a publicist, were her go-to, the kind of jeans she wore are an easy way to pay tribute. Bring back the bootcut in a way that looks chic – slightly cropped, and worn with ankle boots.


Lauren Cochrane

The GuardianTramp

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